Monday, 30 November 2009

An interesting week

The week started off by a visit from immigration officers. One of the not so nice outcomes from the open borders agreement in much of Europe is that now the immigration officers need to check up to make sure people really have left after visas expire, or to make sure that people are up to date on their registration documents and so entails periodic home visits from the dear folk. The last visit I had there were four guys who all looked pretty intimidating, but fortunately the one who spoke English was a nice enough bloke who was very courteous. This time it was a visit by a man and a woman but they still looked intimidating with their official cards and huge jackets with immigration written on them, oh yes and don't forget their pistols, however they were really nice and checked our passports and asked some questions about a friend of ours who has left the country. The only question I do have, is how come they always wait until Ian is out of the house before visiting? Hmmm!

This week I also discovered a squeamish side of me I didn't know existed and if you are of a delicate disposition, then please skip this paragraph. We decided to buy some of the local carp as I had the great idea that the lake that keeps appearing could be developed into a fish pond, well there is not much point in developing a fish pond if you don't like the type of fish that grows well in it so it was important to try it out. Well the fish was fresh, some of it was still flapping in the buckets but the one we bought didn't flap, well not until I started to gut it. Gutting fish I can cope with fine, but not when fin moves, even more so when it opens its mouth. It kind of freaked me out a little and I made Ian come and do the manly thing and dispatch it properly before I continued, he wasn't particularly happy about doing it either but he managed. So the lesson learnt? Make sure you know how to dispatch fish properly before starting to prepare it for cooking. Now I know some of you would be thinking at this point that really the lesson learnt is to buy a nice little pre-packaged thingummy jig at the local supermarket - problem solved! Well here in Latvia they keep the carp in tanks so it would still be flapping when they give it to you, and besides I think we do need to reconnect where our meat and fish comes from and not be quite so squeamish. I am going to learn how to make sure the jobs done properly though in future.

Been a good week for feasting and sitting round a dinner table chatting, which is my idea of a perfect time. Earlier on in the week was the American Thanksgiving, sorry to be absolutely correct United States of America Thanksgiving as the Canadian Thanksgiving is a month earlier, and Canadians are American too so it was pointed out to me that evening (well yes I kind of knew that). Amazingly we had a huge turkey, which is not all that common here in Latvia, both the turkey and huge; normally if you can find a turkey at all they are of the scrawny variety and not the well fattened sort. America exports many things including ideas and celebrations but not Thanksgiving, which I think is a shame. I am all for a celebration that revolves around eating (notice a pattern here) and being grateful for the past year with friends and family and, as one person said whilst I was in America, no pressure to buy presents. Mind you with hindsight I wonder if his wife thought the same way about it?

The other feast was a wedding. We were invited to the wedding of one of the camp leaders we met in the first year of camps we did in Latvia back in the year 2000. She is a bubbly, passionate kind of girl and looks like she has found someone who is equally passionate about his relationship with God and I think they will suit each other well. The wedding was a little of an English-Latvian fusion because there were many guests from England, including the "best couple" who were good friends of ours from our church back in England - in fact the couple who were responsible for getting us interested in going out to Latvia all those years ago. Latvians love flowers and use any occasion to give them and so instead of flowers being arranged by the couple, every family brings along flowers to give to the bride and groom. There were lots of vases around so I think that the huge number of flowers given were actually distributed around the church building where they got married to decorate it rather than be wasted. Other differences to the UK traditions I noticed was no bridesmaids and once the father walked the bride down the aisle he immediately handed her over to the bridegroom instead of an elaborate handover ceremony. At the reception the bride and grooms family did not sit on the top table, it was the two supporting couples. There were songs sung by the bride's brother and friends, which is not surprising in Latvia as they do like to sing even if they don't go to church, there was a game where the winners got to take the young couple out over the coming year, for instance one couple will take them to the cinema one month, one will organise a romantic meal another month and so on, not sure how normal that is for Latvians but seemed an interesting enough idea. One thing I understand is common is the regular banging on glasses with cutlery and the shouting of "kiss, kiss" in Latvian of course and then the couple were expected to kiss, a real headache inducing tradition.

On the way to the wedding in the morning we came to an area where it was unexpectedly misty and I couldn't quite work out why until we came round a corner to see a very sad sight, a hotel that was on fire and by the time we were passing the spot was a mere shell with the outside walls still standing but no roof and only the chimney stacks still visible; by the time we went home the whole thing had collapsed. It was a great shame as it had only just been spruced up since we arrived in Latvia, in the bright yellow colour that the Latvians love (as you can see from the picture)

On our late night trips back home we usually see plenty of wild life and this time was no exception. If you see one deer on the road you can usually expect more so Ian is always careful to slow down. This time there were three deer stood in the road who were looking in the opposite direction to our car, we expected them to at least scatter when we approached, but no they didn't even turn around to look at us. You would think that a car at night with headlights on would warrant some attention but it wasn't until we were within metres of them did they seem to realise we were there and run off. We decided at this point that wolves have got it all wrong, they don't need to go around in sheep's clothing to confuse the deer, they just need to take up driving, the bigger the car the better, they would be sure to be able to sneak up on the deer then.

It has still been rather wet here this week so it was quite a surprise when the sun actually put in an appearance today and so the dark night took a little longer before it really took hold, well perhaps 10 minutes more daylight than normal often it is pretty dark by 4pm, and we have even needed the light on for much of the day sometimes. Makes you realise why the Northern Europeans like candles in winter time. Talking of winter Father Christmas was spotted today having a walk around our village, he does seem to have lost quite a bit of weight though in preparation for the annual stuffing of eating all those mince pies and shots of sherry at the UK addresses. Which reminds me, I guess that must mean Christmas is fairly close! Oh! Crumbs! Well never mind the kids aren't actually going to be coming out this year on Christmas itself so I should be safe. First one arrives two days later, next one two months and errr the other one?????? Whenever!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Further quiet times and musings

This week continued to be a pretty quiet week without Ian, I only had the radio on once while he was away. Some people might find that scary, I have often heard people remark that they cannot live without the sound of voices somewhere. I personally don't have a problem with silence, it gives me space to think and ponder and I guess I have had time to do that this week. I would have had more time to ponder if I wasn't catching up with coursework though. Still I got a lot of studying done too. There were no startling revelations this week in my studies but I did find out the Common Fisheries Policy is a mess, which I guess we all knew anyway. Still I will leave others to delve more deeply into that as I concentrate on more land base issues. Nice to find one area that I didn't really want to pursue amongst all the others that have come up. I have found so many areas to explore within the course that it can be quite overwhelming at times.

I did get out onto the land a couple of times since Ian wasn't around to keep an eye on things and to carry on digging ditches (oh the fun you can have playing in mud). There was one scary moment as my welly (rubber boot) became stuck and I suddenly thought "What do I do? I am out in the middle of nowhere and my phone does not often get a signal in that spot" I remembered that if I got really stuck I would have to throw myself flat on the floor in the mud and crawl out, I would then have to get back to the apartment and walk up three flights of stairs caked in mud, not a happy prospect. Fortunately at that point of visualising myself skulking into the building trying not to be seen, there was a deep squelching noise as my boot came free and I scampered out of the muddy mire.

A visit to our joiner friend revealed that shortly after I had been out on the land we had had visitors, they were finally getting on with constructing the poly tunnel frame. Since Ian was not around I asked our Swedish builder/plumber come general handyman to come out with me and check it out. I was a little worried about how they were going to manage when the area was so muddy. I had no idea how they were going to erect the ribs of the tunnel, they couldn't use ladders that was for sure, would we get there and find some half buried young men? As we came over the brow of the hill we saw the half constructed tunnel, it was so peculiar to see this upturned ark like structure stuck in the middle of a field, somehow they had indeed managed to put up the ribs. An inspection of the site revealed how they had cobbled together a prop for the ribs from some of the branches that Ian has been cutting down, very ingenious. Good news is that my trenches had made a difference and the land was beginning to drain a little too so we didn't have to dig anyone out.

Paid a visit to Jekabpils this week, the nearest large town to us, to try and find some fabric to make a traditional Latvian costume as some presents for littlies. Now I have been to Jekabpils quite a few times, it is quite a pretty town with lots of little wooden buildings and a few modern ones. We have walked around it many a time but I had never seen any fabric shops but, as usual here in Latvia, you have to know where things are to find them. Some shops are obvious with little window displays but many are not and you have to go inside to find out what is there, for someone used to the UK or America with commercial areas, shop windows and distinct districts, it can be a bit frustrating at times but also a bit like a treasure hunt. It is amazing where the Latvians can tuck a little business, and even some bigger businesses and it is definitely a case of not what you know but who you know in order to find them.

Went to pick Ian up on Saturday from the airport and I saw the sun for the first time, all five minutes of it. Although Ian didn't really get much chance to get out and about he did at least see the sun but he was still glad to get home. We'll see what he thinks after a few days rain though, the weather forecast doesn't look good. The trip went well and he managed to sort out some technical issues while he was there, as well as support and encourage his work colleague. He also met up with our youngest son's girlfriend's parents who are Greek Cypriot and in Cyprus at the same time, even though they now live in London. Ian got to meet more of the family and see where the father was born and grew up; he also heard some of the stories and exploits arising out of the more recent Cypriot troubled history of the 1970's. We are not sure if he will get the chance to go out again as his work colleague retires next year but we will just have to wait and see if anything else develops or not.

A friend of ours suddenly had a free day and decided to visit us before the snow came and so we had the pleasure of showing him around. It is great to be able to show him all the places we know now, and to pass on all the snippets of information we have found out in the last year. We took him out to the Everglades and we tramped through the wet fields, painting a picture of what could be, let him have a drive in the tractor and talked about the history of the place with all the evidence of the battle that had been fought in the forested areas. So much we have found out, and yet there is so much more to discover about the complicated history of this land. So much more to learn about the culture of the people and so much more to learn about what will grow in this land and more importantly what should we grow in the land. Is there a difference you might ask, and there is. Too often we can plant something that will grow well in an area, in fact too well. We do not want to cause problems by planting what will be come invasive weeds, whether they be spiritual, cultural or physical.

I said I had been pondering a lot as well and one of my ponderings has been about climate change. Someone posted a video on the discussion board of my course labelled "The most terrifying video you will ever see"..... well actually it is not but I think it does ask some good questions. I am a little tired of people saying we can't be sure that climate change is happening etc etc which is true, but..... if it is then we ought to be doing something about it, even if it is only remotely true we still should be doing something. Whether climate change is true or not, we are polluting our world and ought to do something about it. In Victorian times the rich lived in the towns but upwind from the factories and away from the overcrowded, polluted, disease ridden houses of the poor, now we live in different countries entirely. Our factories are still producing goods for our consumption just like in Victorian times but instead of it being a few miles away they are thousands of miles away. There is never any need to go down and see what providing us with our comforts actually does to those who make them, or those displaced so we can have the raw materials to have them. We are as guilty as those indifferent mill owners and the upper classes of the Victorian era, if we do not care how the poor are living, or open our eyes to see the damage being done. How can we stand by and say "Well it will hurt the economy if we start making changes", the damage to the economy has already been done, now let's start making a difference to our environment instead of fouling up what God gave us to look after, whether that is in our own backyard or in far flung places. We can stop being greedy and wasteful for a start and that is something positive we can do, we will then not have to work just to provide us with new things and maybe we will actually enjoy life more.

Another biggie to think about "Democracy" is it good for us? This was a comment by one guy on the BBC site on the appointment of the new President of the EU.
"The best top level appointments are necessarily based on the proven, and potential, ability to make and maintain relationships that will serve the best interests of the organization and all of its members. What support the chosen individuals have, and the quality of their staff and advisors, is a factor in any such decision. It appears that the EU Council had those factors in mind when the selections were made. Certainly a better system than popular public election where charismatic dictators and demagogues, party platforms, and the inept and unproven can sell themselves to a naive public, gaining power that they should not ever have. The roles in question are not starter jobs, with long learning curves, as is the case in some similar situations in some countries, but instead senior leadership roles that require experience.
Bob, Hamilton, Canada

So is democracy good for us? If so was the election of the EU president democratic, after all the decision was made by elected heads of governments, or was it undemocratic because we personally didn't get to vote? Does it matter? Well I think it does, we have to think about what shape of society we want. I personally wouldn't want an elected president with all the razzmatazz that goes with it, I am quite happy for our elected representatives to do that but I do want to be able to influence decision making in one way or another. I think my take on it was put rather well by Monbiot

"Our power comes from acting as citizens - demanding political change - not acting as consumers."

When we purely think of ourselves as consumers we are still wedded to the idea that the market can solve everything, our money can change things. When we start thinking like activists, no matter how small then we can start to act independently of our money and the market and start demanding a change to the system as well. Sounds like something I need to mull over some more.

Photo 1: Can you spot the blue bit in the sky?
Photo 2: The eerie structure in the distance
Photo 3: The poly tunnel ribs close up plus mud
Photo 4: Ian giving instructions on tractor driving
Photo 5: Our friend complete with the remains of an exploded bomb and Ian taking his picture.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A quiet time

One of our  Latvian lessons was a little different this week as we had a little visitor. Our teacher brought her little son along as his dad wasn't at home. He is a bit shy of us, maybe his age but also possibly these strange folks who he doesn't understand. One little girl in Denmark, where we used to live, got very upset when I spoke in English and cried every time I saw her, other children, usually boys, just prattle on as if you understand everything they say as long as you nod in the right places. We don't have many toys for little ones, actually we don't have many toys at all but I do have a hobby horse that a certain someone bought me for Christmas so I could continue my riding lessons even though we were moving countries, hmmph! This hobby horse has a button in its ear that when you press it it makes a galloping noise, then a horse's neighing noise followed by a noise like it has just been shot, it provided endless amusement one Christmas and Rudolfs the little lad thought it was hilarious too. My years of children's work paid off though, out came a plastic picnic set of plates and cups, a wooden spoon and a bag of pegs and he played quite happily for awhile. He even contributed to the lesson occasionally by saying "ok" or laughing. Well I am glad he finds our Latvian funny!

Our front loader for our tractor has still not arrived so I had to go and practice reversing the tractor out of the tight place where it is parked in preparation for having to fill in for farmer Ian while he is away in Cyprus. I did okay and I am sure it would get easier with use but I can't say I enjoyed it knowing that I might have to get the tractor out while someone is waiting. I drive it very very slowly, they would have time for cup of tea by the time I get the tractor out. 

It has been ever so quiet around here since I took Ian to the airport, I haven't even had music on at all today, I don't think Ian can last a full 24 hours without music. I did go out to the Everglades though (our land remember?)  just to make sure everything was okay and since I am not really adept at using a chainsaw like Ian (come to think of it I don't think I have ever used it) I pottered around digging ditches instead, trying to drain the water from around the foundation blocks of the polytunnel, all the blocks are surrounded by what looks like miniature swimming pools. Not sure I was very successful but I was as happy as a kid at the seaside digging in the sand...... well mud.

Talking of things mechanical our selector went on our car again and so we had an unplanned trip into Riga to sort it out. Not happy! Even more unhappy when they said that Ian is not selecting gears gently enough and that is why it went! My dear husband is not the sort of person to thrash a car and to be honest I thought Mitsubishi trucks could stand a lot of hammer. I thought that is what they were designed for, to be rugged, and as far as I am aware the people who usually drive these kinds of vehicles will not be as gentle as my dear husband. So be warned! It had better last longer this time otherwise we will be in for a fight. I don't give in easily.

Latvia is a great place to live according to the Baltic Times and I have to agree with them. I thought the article was a fairly amusing piece that stated that Latvians moan a lot but the Brits have the edge, maybe that is why we get on so well. I don't think our criteria for what makes Latvia a great place to live is the same but it is interesting to read their choices, choir singing (one of these days I shall have to go along and actually listen to one of these choirs, they are very popular and more so since the crisis,  when the chips are down the Latvians sing), Grandma's pickles (well having never tried Grandma's pickles I can't really say), downhill skiing on any available hill (not tried the downhill skiing here and having been to Austria, France and Colorado skiing the slopes do look more like baby slopes), the coastline (stunning as you can see in the photo, quiet, empty white beaches and accessible too) and lastly the diversity of people (not sure on this one having lived in the UK, where diversity is more obvious). My top five reasons for living in Latvia in no particular order are the people, they are shy and sometimes take time to get to know but it is worth it as they are a generous people, having a cross country ski run at the top of the road is a boon, the quietness of the rural village we live in, the cleaness of the air and lastly the simplicity of the lifestyle. 

Living in Latvia it is hard to escape that this is a time of crisis, maybe it has eased for others but Latvians still have the long winter months to get through and so my thoughts often turn to what what might be. I don't believe God leaves us bereft but I don't think our comfort is also that important to him, he is in the business of transforming this planet and though we can't always see what he is doing, I believe he has a plan and is not shocked by what is going on. And so what have my musings and prayers lead me to? Well I believe structural rearrangements will continue, some people think that business will get back to normal now the worse of the crisis is over, well it might for awhile but for how long, I am not so sure. I also believe that structures are going to be rearranged and by some very surprising sources, rather like some beavers who decided to do a little rearranging of their own in the heart of Riga the capital of Latvia as they felled a couple of trees one outside the opera house. About four weeks ago a major branch was broken off an oak tree on the Everglades, at the time Ian felt that something had been released and something restructured. I know God likes to work out of insignificant places and using surprising choices in which to do it, I mean who else would have thought of using a cross to bring redemption to this world in an insignificant out of the way nation if it wasn't for a God who cares enough to do something about our situation personally and delights in using the seemingly insignificant to shame the wise. I believe there are going to be some rearrangements structurally in some big institutions of this world and I think we can look for further signs of this happening around the world in the natural first. I look forward to seeing some how God is going to work through this period. Big changes can seem frightening but if you look at the big changes that happened 20 years ago as communism fell, it is surprising what small acts can build into some surprisingly big changes and surprisingly rapidly too.

As well as looking forwards sometimes it is good to look back and I loved this report about a missionary,  Brother Flackwho is retired now but at over 100+ has this to say - "Go as a learner. Be prepared to learn from the national people and from the culture of the country. Do not try to make the churches like the one in your own country. Do everything you can to develop indigenous growth. Do not be masters; be servants. Identify in every way you can with the people God puts you among. You are there to establish self-supporting; self-governing and self-propagating churches." Isn't that what Jesus set out to do 2000 years ago? Refreshingly simple if we would only follow the Master's plan!

I have been enjoying my courses and over time I have found out some very interesting facts but this week I was completely staggered by what I found out. Apparently it took 100 years from discovering that asbestos was dangerous to it actually being banned. Considering the awfulness of the consequences of coming into contact with asbestos it would seem down right criminal to have known about a risk for so long and not done anything about it. You can read the report ( large file 1.7Mb) for yourselves if you wish and it also covers some other surprising facts such as the fact that Monsanto (company behind GM crops) ignored the danger of PCBs (a mixture of synthetic organic chemicals used in electrical wiring) for so long even though their own workers were falling ill while manufacturing it. Question is will we learn?

1,2 and 3 are from a Latvian holiday in 2002 when we actually toured around a little instead of staying in the camps for the whole of our trip. As you can see the beaches are wonderful.

Photo 4, shows the rather grey day we had today, I had planned to go and take some photos of our village to show you but it was too miserable until the last few minutes before dusk. 

Photos 5, 6 and 7 are the last few minutes as the sun was setting and dipped below the cloud line which lit up the trees as if they were covered with fairy lights, very pretty. 

Monday, 9 November 2009

Humour needed!

Thought I would give a little update on the Latvian lessons first. We are by no means fluent in any shape or form as I have just not had the time to do more than glance at the books before the lessons and Ian is struggling to memorise what he needs to remember but we muddle on through. The great thing is though that our teachers are wonderful and patient and when things aren't going well we can laugh. I was listening to a service which was part translated on Sunday and I realised that I could recognise quite a few words which was great and I even managed to follow along with a piece that wasn't translated - I don't think I got the whole of it but at least I think I got the idea of what they were talking about which is encouraging.

Last week I mentioned how Ian was switching between the roles of consultant, farmer and househusband and the pattern continued for the rest of the week and the result of that is that he is off to Cyprus at the end of this week. He told his colleague that he will only go if she can guarantee some sunshine to which she replied she couldn't guarantee the sunshine as it is cooling down now in Cyprus, but she can guarantee it will be warmer than in Latvia. How true! The Everglades have just begun to defrost slightly with a rise in temperature and the snow that fell at the end of last week is disappearing but it is going ever so slowly, the crocodiles are ever so sluggish!

Just in case you think we have finally lost it and maybe you are not so far wrong on that score, our piece of land was jokingly labelled the Everglades last week as the ground has become rather saturated over Autumn. The problem with jokes in our household is that they have a tendency to rumble on for weeks, if not years. It is a trait of Ian's family! Honest! His Dad used to joke that the Queen would regularly pop in for a cup of tea on her travels and the spin offs from that joke still rumble on now and Ian's Dad died a couple of years ago but they are heroically kept alive by son and grandson in his honour. So various jokes about the Everglades have abounded, hence the crocodiles and the frequent mention of hovercrafts. 

One of the things we have to get used to in Latvia is the attitude to private land is rather different to that in England. I would never dream of venturing on land in case it belonged to someone but here there is no such scruple and perhaps that is as it should be, as long as they are not damaging land and respecting the environment. Often people go into woods to collect mushrooms or willow which is fine. One incident that I had forgotten about from the previous week happened to Ian while he was busy clearing out the wood. Ian came out of the wood and spotted a lot of people with high visibility vests on, Ian's first thought was that it was the police and there had been an incident, especially as they were all in a long line walking across the ploughed bit of land. Ian summoned up courage and went up to one of them and asked if they spoke English (Angliski?) which fortunately the guy did and he explained that it was a hunt. Phew! Well they set off into the woods "whooping" as they went along, I guess they were driving the game towards those with guns - no wonder they had high visibility jackets on then. Not quite sure what I think about folks driving game off the land we are stewarding but in some ways I just hope they reduce the number of wild boar as I can foresee they maybe a real problem if we try and grow veg. I perhaps would feel better if we could benefit from their activities though, I don't think I have actually had venison but wild boar is pretty good. 

We don't often have guests turn up unexpectedly very often  but  this week was an exception which has been fun. I agree with one blog site that measures how beautiful a home is, not by the elegant setting or the eclectic chic appearance but by the abundance of generous hearts, so hopefully our guest was blessed by arriving at a meal time and my eking it out to feed three instead of two, he seemed to appreciate it anyway. Our young American friend, Marvin, also came round for a meal for the last time this week as he is off back to America, he will be sorely missed around here. His last visit will be memorable for one reason in particular though as he made an explosive exit  - well not him personally but the front glass section on my oven shattered while we were in the kitchen preparing the meal, thankfully no one was hurt. Not sure what I am going to do about the door now and it is proving interesting trying to get food into and out of the oven as it does not stay fully open due to the lack of weight from the missing glass front and it requires an almost yoga type exercise in order to keep the door open. 

A few weeks ago I asked on a forum site if anyone had any good ideas for marrows as I had used them in just about any way I could think of and had run out of ideas, an interesting suggestion was to make marrow rum. The recipe was easy enough, brown sugar, juice of an orange and some yeast all packed into the hollowed out centre of a marrow and left for a few weeks.  Eventually the marrow started leaking and so we thought we had better deal with it as we didn't want anything exploding in our dump room, I think that would entail a far more complicated cleaning up job than the exploding pumpkin down in the cellar (anyone get the impression that it is getting dangerous around here?). We opened up the marrow and a very pleasant but alcoholic smell began to permeate the apartment, we tipped the juice into a plastic bottle and added more orange juice and yeast, scraped the rest of the flesh out of the marrow and left it to drain in a colander to extract the maximum amount of liquid. The sweet alcoholic smell lingered and wouldn't you guess it that is the time for more unexpected guests to turn up, we smelt more like an illegal distillery and wondered what our neighbours would think as the smell wafted out the door. Alcohol is a major problem here in Latvia so they probably thought we had just succumbed to the onslaught of poor weather and turned to drink. Fortunately our guests saw the funny side of it and we laughed and giggled about it. 

Last week I mentioned that our tractor had been driven back to the tractor company and wondered how long it would have taken them as it takes an hour by car and our tractor is only little, well we found out it took them three hours. Three hours of bumping around on dirt roads for our little tractor - poor thing! Can't imagine whoever drove the tractor was in good shape either at the end of that. Worse thing is that didn't even solve the problem, our front loader is still not fitted. Somehow the wrong part was either ordered or sent and we have to wait for the right part to come from Italy. We had the tractor delivered back to us for the time being though and would you believe it, it arrived one snowy evening! And yes the transit pulling our tractor on a low loader did get stuck didn't it! And yes Ian pulled ended up pulling it out to the land. He is going to have to get a new tow rope at this rate but Ian did say it looked rather peculiar with our red truck pulling a big transit that was pulling a low loader with a tractor on it. So what is the betting that the part comes next week while Ian is away? I have to go and get tractor driving lessons to learn how to reverse it out of the tight space where it is parked just in case. Deep joy! Advantage of the returned tractor is that Ian could turn the tractor lights on and the guys finish off the concreting for our poly tunnel base, we are kind of glad that bit is finished despite the mud, rain, ice and snow, just not so sure about the wisdom of trying to concrete in the ice though. Only time will tell on that one.

Our eventful week was rounded off by the announcement that our chimney is ready for our new stove. We weren't able to find the right parts but that doesn't seem to matter here in Latvia, if you don't find the part, you find someone to make it for you. That did mean that our living room needed a radical rearrangement. Well we kind of put it off as long as possible as changing furniture around and deciding where it is going to go is fraught with problems in our household, Ian hates change - I think it might be a man thing, not sure, but I love to change things around and would do it a lot more if it didn't cause so much strife. The thing I don't like though is the wires to all the bits and pieces of electrical stuff - now that causes me strife. Well we survived the trauma without too much strain and if anyone asks the yellow bruise on Ian's nose is because a twig hit him last week. OK!

Just a quick ponder this week so here goes, as I sit and write this blog it is 20 years ago since the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember the shock of that happening and the consequent falling of the communist regime. It was amazing how such an act can have consequences down the line and even the fact that I am sat here writing this blog here in Latvia would not be possible without the momentous changes that  occurred all those years ago.

And talking of wonders that will never cease an influential think tank released a blog this week that supported the work of the Latvian Prime Minister in the face of the IMF and doesn't think he deserves the flak that he is getting and believes that the IMF has been making a hash of things in Latvia. Now where have I heard that before?

Pictures 1 & 2 - Our wintry village
Pictures 3 & 4 - The cleared out woodland and the pile of brush (I know I am only little but that pile is still huge and one of I think three)
Pictures 5 & 6 - More scenes from the land.
Picture 7 Our new stove, do you like the fire?

Monday, 2 November 2009

Contrasts and hold ups

Our life at the moment is full of contrasts, well maybe not full of them but certainly a mixture of what feels like bizarre moments. For instance today, I was studying as usual and Ian was in the kitchen dealing with pumpkins, two of them had rotted whilst sat in our basement (fortunately these ones did not explode like the other one) so it was decided that the others needed dealing with now rather than later. Ian was actually hanging around waiting for a phone call from the tractor company to tell him a tractor service engineer was on his way to fit a front loader on our little tractor (only three weeks late but who's counting) which is why he wasn't out at the land dealing with wood, as he has been for the past few weeks. So there is Ian up to his elbows in pumpkin when he gets a call from Cyprus, his hospital technician's experience was required, so he switches into consultancy mode, that dealt with and it is back to pumpkins, next the awaited phone call from the tractor company, the service engineers are on the way, farmer mode. As for me, I acted as secretary whilst Ian couldn't answer the phone as his hands were covered in pumpkin gunk, finished off the pumpkin seeds that he had been in the middle of sorting, then a while later cookery agony aunt "How do you roast a chicken? Thought you might know!" says the voice on the other end of the phone, next moving onto sorting out details regarding our house in England which we need to deal with since our daughter finishes her course in about a months time and will be leaving and somewhere in the midst of all that I am trying to write up an assignment. My assignment might get finished soon! 

Ian gave the land a nickname this week "The Everglades", because the land is so completely saturated that the lake which briefly appeared after the snow melted in April has reappeared  as have other small ponds. Unfortunately for Ian the Everglades, Latvia is a tinsy winsy bit colder than the Everglades, Florida ie 28C in Florida and freezing here or maybe that is not a bad thing as now our Everglades has begun to freeze over, so maybe it will be possible to skate on the Everglades before long. Still at least we now know what to expect next year and where the problem areas are. This is such an important part of getting to know the land, rather than rushing in and inflicting whatever solution we feel like and ending up with a mess, we are spending the time information gathering from the internet, gleaning information from locals and by good old fashioned observation. Of course there are jobs to do and Ian has been clearing out the mass of tangled undergrowth in the woods and giving the taller trees breathing space and room to grow, so he is not bored, in fact you can see the wood pile he has amassed in the photos from the fallen oak tree branch (by the way kids your dad says "See, he hasn't lost the touch of building a wood pile") but these are really frittering around the edges jobs and this winter we will really have to sit down and start planning what is going where and how we progress with everything, maybe the ubiquitous 5 year plan, well kind of. 

Progress continues to be slow with the polytunnel. The holes that were dug for the concrete are now full of water. Ideally Ian would have dug the holes out with a digger he bought but it didn't fit the tractor (that was another saga). If it had fit then the polytunnel would have been up by now. After a lot of emails he finally found out that it would fit with a £1000 special attachment. Ouch! (I do have to point out at this point that Ian had done the research and the digger should have been fine for the tractor but nowhere did it mention that each tractor has to have its own attachment as they are not standard) Plan B, a friend brought out a machinist who apparently works wonders, an old chap but friendly enough. Well we all stood around the tractor and our friend translated back and forth between Latvian and English, and the old chap seemed to think that he could create an attachment to fit the tractor. Perfect! Can do it in a couple of days! Brilliant! All we had to do was get the tractor up to his place. Problem! The front loader was meant to be fitted today and as I said earlier the guys came out to do it but there was an issue and they decided that they needed to take the tractor back to the company, an hours (car) drive away and they were going to drive our little tractor back there which perhaps manages 2o miles an hour. Hopefully they got the tractor back there, or maybe they are still wending their way to the tractor company as I write? So no tractor for the time being. Plan stalled yet again!

I know the post was a little long last week so I left something out that I felt was noteworthy, so here it is. An Estonian saying goes "In order to see new things, you have to follow common paths - paths you know." so said Urmas Tartes after winning a photographic award. How true, how often we miss the obvious or the new because the path is so familiar. Wonder what I have missed along the way?

The Latvian meteorite which was spread across the news sites last week certainly did turn out to be a hoax, in fact it was all a marketing hoax to demonstrate that Latvia is a creative place! Hmmm! The Latvian interior ministry was not amused though and requested payment from the company for the time involved, all 13000 LVLs of it. Makes me wonder how many people were involved because the police are not that well paid at the moment, about 400 LVLs a month, but it broke down into 3000 LVLs for the policing and 10,000 LVLs for the military for maybe two days work at the most. Sounds like it may have escalated into a major incident.

I was chatting with a friend online this week after I posted a link to a newspaper article that gave a pretty fair appraisal of the economic climate in Latvia and she asked what God was calling us to do regarding the problems facing Latvia. Good question! After a bit of thought I replied that I was going to pray for an apology from the Swedish government and banks for their part in the crisis. They have not shown a compassionate face in all of this and they are as much to blame as the Latvian nation but to listen to them you wouldn't think so. I think though more significantly God delights to raise up surprising solutions from out of the way and despised places and I pray that God raises up a solution here in Latvia, one that will bring joy and health to this planet we live on.